I’ve mentioned several times on this trip how the feeling of insignificance constantly emerges whenever we go sightseeing. I can still say that the most intense feeling of insignificance was definitely during our trip to see the Redwoods in northern California.
Standing at the foot of these trees and looking up a couple hundred feet with the knowledge that many of these giants existed before Christ is a mind-blowing experience. Seriously, I just stood there several times and couldn’t wrap my head around it. Our existence as human beings is nothing compared to these trees. As we walked around, we talked about the changes of humanity since these trees made their first appearance on Earth. How many human beings have passed the redwoods, looking up in amazement as we did? It’s a crazy concept.
Our first stop was at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Upon entering, there are signs that warn visitors against entering with towed trailers and RV’s. Lucky for us, Bear is small and has big tires so we were able to ride on through without any issues.
Our plans to camp while exploring this area changed when we arrived in Crescent City, CA after dark. We headed to the local Wal-Mart and saw several people camped out in the parking lot, even people with rooftop tents! They were open 24 hours and had a coffee shop inside so ultimately it was an easy decision to make Wal-Mart home for a couple days.
The following day, we drove over to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, a private park with a gondala ride that takes you through the trees. We saw our first billboard for this place around central Oregon and Riley would not stop asking about it. The billboards continued and Riley kept asking, so we promised to take him. When we stopped at the Visitor Center in Crescent City, the lady who worked there said it wasn’t worth visiting, but I disagree.
You can’t miss this place. It’s right on highway 101 and there is a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe at the entrance. The price of admission wasn’t outrageous, but it also helped that Riley got in for free. They are also pet friendly so Jack got to go inside the gift shop and ride the gondola! Overall, we thought it was a fun, touristy place to visit. We enjoyed seeing some of the strange trees and Riley loved the gondola. I think it’s a fun place to check out especially if you have kids.
Next stop, “The Last Free Place” Slab City, California.
After we left Newport, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Driving along I-5, we had so many rest areas to choose from, but highway 101 had nothing. Well, nothing free. We stumbled upon a campsite along the highway that had a few RV’s parked. Initially, we thought we got lucky then saw it cost $30/night. It was really hard to justify spending $30 for a place to park when we just spent $40 on a motel room. I said to Clayton, “I’m pretty sure there’s a casino in Florence, let’s just drive there and see if we can park.”
My parking senses must have been tingling because yes, there was a casino and yes, they offered free RV parking.
We found ourselves at 3 Rivers Casino located a couple miles down highway 26. The casino offers 4 nights of free parking for RV’s and if you obtain a player’s card and gain 100 points, you can have an additional 4 nights. Initially, we thought this was awesome. They offered free coffee, hot chocolate, hot water, and soda. They also had free Wi-Fi and charging stations in the lobby.
When a business offers free parking, we will spend our money there as a way to say thank you. Our first night, we dined at the World Market Buffet. Sounds legit, right? It was a Wednesday and dinner prices were $13.99 per adult. Verdict? The food was terrible. Like fast food, frozen dinner terrible. We probably should have taken a look at the food first, but it was too late to get our money back so might as well get our money’s worth! So I ate, I ate a lot and paid the consequences the next morning.
Our second night, we wanted a beer with dinner so we decided to grab food at the Blue Bills Sports Bar and Taproom. It was around 6:20 when we approached the door and saw a sign that said minors are not allowed inside after 6. We thought that seemed a bit early, but rules are rules, so we headed over next door to Sunset Grille.
The hostess informed us there was a long wait for Sunset Grille then suggested we head next door to Blue Bills. We ask the hostess about the sign and she says “oh they don’t really enforce that unless the band is playing. You can still eat in there”. We returned to the Sports Bar and Clayton went inside first to double check and was given the green light by 2 more employees. We went inside and it was pretty dead. I looked around and noticed that about every patron was over the age of 65. Everyone appeared to be a local since the only waitress chatted with them and asked how their families were doing. The setting looked more innocent than an Applebee’s.
We sat down and I noticed that we weren’t immediately greeted. Clayton walked around to see if we could find a menu somewhere. Finally, our waitress approaches and says “you know you’re past the time limit” and points at Riley. I was taken aback by how rude she was, but we explained that the hostess from Sunset Grille told us to come in and that we double checked with her co-workers. She responds, “well, they told you wrong. I just want to let you know that.” WTF? Should we leave then? We sat there in silence, but she goes ahead and asks about our drinks. I assume at this point, it’s okay for us to stay. Since I wanted a beer, I ask what beers they have on tap since they advertise craft beers. She quickly rambles off a list of 5 beers, “coors, coors light, bud light…” and doesn’t even mention the craft beers. I let out a laugh because she was obviously not in the mood to help us.
We ask for water and time to look at our menu which subsequently turns our bitchy waitress into Flash Gordon. She immediately brings the waters and asks what we’re ordering. We ask again for more time and not even kidding, I read 2 items off the menu and she’s back! I can’t even tell you what kind of food this place serves if you asked me.
It was obvious we weren’t welcome there and she was making it clear that she wanted us out. I order the fish and chips, and mac and cheese for Riley. I tell Clayton that we should just share because I was no longer in the mood to spend money there. Clayton gets up to look at the craft beers on tap and I tell him to buy beer at Safeway and to get our food to go. I don’t appreciate people being disrespectful to me and my family.
We had dinner in the trailer and I hate to say it, but the fish and chips were delicious.
The next day, we headed over to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and checked out the beach. It seemed like a cool place to ride the dunes in the summer time. We just ran around and took pictures until it started to rain.
Coos Bay was such a memorable part of our Oregon adventure. We found free camping at Bastendorff Beach and it was unbelievable. Seriously, we had a million dollar view for free. There is a bit of a downside to this area: it is rarely patrolled and there are many permanent residents here aka homeless folks. But really, we didn’t have a problem and found the homeless people to be pretty nice. We even left our stuff unattended and no one touched it! I think this is an amazing spot for scenic boondocking.
I’ll just let the pictures tell the story:
We also stopped at a brewery called 7 Devils Brewing Company. They had vegetarian poutin with giant pieces of cheese curds. I still dream about this dish!
I can’t remember the exact town or beach we took the following pictures. It was really south, going back towards California. On our drive, the rain stopped and when the sun peaked through the clouds, it created the most beautiful golden light. It was too good not to photograph, so enjoy the ending to our Oregon adventure…
Our Oregon Coast adventure was such a whirlwind of events that I had to split it up into two parts. I took about 400 photos and had to narrow it down to a special few because “ain’t nobody got time for that!” I’m starting to think I need to treat my DSLR like an old camera with film to limit the amount of pictures I take. But really, who could blame me? Oregon is so beautiful!
After Crater Lake, we headed north on I-5 and made our way towards Corvallis then McMinnville to visit family. Touring Oregon’s wine country was on our to-do list, but the rain was relentless so we scratched that idea and headed towards the coast where we planned on taking highway 101 back to San Francisco.
(Quick Tip: Oregon rest areas allow 12 hours of parking so we didn’t have a problem finding a place to park for the night while we drove along I-5, wohoo!)
Depoe Bay was our first stop along the coast. The nonstop rain was hard to deal with so I asked Clayton if we could treat ourselves to a nice motel room for the night. A hot shower sounded like a dream. He agreed, so I got on Hotwire and booked a room at the Four Winds Motel for $40. The motel was clean and fairly old, but we had an amazing view of the ocean so the price was a steal compared to other places in town.
The next morning, there was a break in the rain so we walked along the 101 and checked out the little shops. Since it was winter, it was quiet and many of the stores were closed. We found amusement in the waterholes shooting out massive amounts of ocean water onto the sidewalk. We learned that Depoe Bay is also a big whale watching destination. There weren’t any whales while we were there, but if you visit during the right time of year, apparently it’s a great place to go. I guess we’ll just have to come back in the summer!
Motel info: Four Winds Motel, rated 2 stars 356 US-101, Depoe Bay, OR 97341
We headed south on the 101 towards Newport to visit my grandmother’s grave and walk along Newport’s Historic Bayfront. I know I already mentioned how relentless the rain was, but seriously, by this time we couldn’t remember the last time we saw the sun. The color of the sky is gray, right? Although we struggled with the lack of vitamin D, there was a part of me that had hope for sunshine that day.
As we entered Newport, Riley had no idea that we had a special treasure hunt planned for him. This wasn’t a random idea, it was actually a request he made after crossing the Oregon Border. My son LOVES The Goonies and he kept asking if we were going to the “Goonies beach”. We had no intention of traveling all the way north to Astoria, so we figured we’ll just tell him the Goonies beach is in Newport and have a treasure hunt. (Hey, we still plan on taking him to the real place when he’s older!)
The treasure hunt was a success. We pulled it off by buying a tiny bag of “pirate gold” from one of the shops in Depoe Bay. Clayton ran ahead of us, buried the bag under a pile of rocks and made an “X” out of sticks. He was super pumped when he found the treasure. His genuine smile and excitement almost brought me to tears. A simple idea turned into a memorable event for all of us. These moments are what I love about this trip.
Remember that hope I had about the sun coming out that day? After the treasure hunt, we headed towards the cemetery to visit my Grandma Flo. You see, my grandma died when I was only 6 months old, but I’ve always had a very strong connection to her… a connection that I’ve never fully understood. When I was a child, I always felt her presence and talked to her almost everyday. I was like that weird kid from The Sixth Sense.
I don’t feel connected to my Grandma anymore, but that day I spoke to her. I actually didn’t hope the sun would come out, I knew for a fact it would. And behold, the photo above, as soon as I placed the flowers on her grave, the sun peaked through the clouds and stayed in sight for the remainder of the day. Once again, I got emotional. Thanks for looking out, Grandma!
We drove to the Historic Bayfront and since it was mid-week, we were able to find close parking for the truck and trailer. This turned out to be a wonderful afternoon for us. At the pier, the sea lions hanging out by the docks were super entertaining. I think we could have stood there all day watching them bark at each other while trying to secure a spot to sunbathe.
We decided to have lunch at Port Dock One which had a big window where we continued watching the sea lions. We also had this amazing view of Yaquina bridge and Riley had a blast watching the fishing boats go in and out. We shared a bowl of clam chowder and it was ah-mazing. (I just checked Yelp and apparently this restaurant has closed down! But no worries, there are plenty of other places on the same street to find clam chowder)
When our time in Ashland ended, we made our way east to Crater Lake National Park. Prior to our visit, I did some research on the lake and found amazing photos of the park during summer. The crystal clear lake, awesome trails and beautiful flowers was an enviable sight, but I had to keep in the mind that our visit would not match the online photos. It was January and cold, so we braced ourselves for a less than ideal setting.
Here are some cool facts about Crater Lake:
Crater Lake was formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. Rain and snow filled the caldera and created the lake.
Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep making it the deepest lake in the U.S. and the ninth deepest lake in the world.
Crater Lake is the snowiest inhabited place in the United States averaging about 44 feet of snow per year.
There are no streams in or out of the lake. The water is maintained by precipitation and evaporation which makes the water clear, blue and pristine.
We were slightly unprepared for camping in the park. The directions we found on freecampsites.net were unclear, so we stopped at Beckie’s Café right outside of the park and had dinner. Beckie’s, by the way, was a good find. The prices were cheap and they had veggie burgers! After Beckie’s, we saw a couple parking lots for sledding areas. There were other RV’s parked and one big rig although there were signs that said a permit was needed for parking. Since the place looked isolated, we figured it was okay to park for the night.
The next morning, we woke up to a few inches of snow covering the truck and trailer. We laughed at how snow is such a quiet intruder. We immediately headed to the park and the Visitor Center which is a good place to watch the orientation video and talk to a ranger about sights to see. Riley loved the orientation video and for a 5 year old, he came out of there with a pretty good understanding of how the lake was formed.
“The volcano goes BOOM and it all fell down to make a hole. The rain and the snow melted inside the hole and made the lake.” -Riley
After the Visitor’s Center, we headed out towards the gift shop located by the lake. We had a snack, purchased a sticker then walked around outside to take photos. For a few minutes, the clouds parted and we were able to get a clear view of the lake. We stood there in awe of how blue and pristine the water looked that we were no longer bothered by the cold air on our faces or the feeling of our boots sinking into the deep snow.
Our time at Crater Lake felt like a gift. There was a part of me that was afraid of disappointment since the entire park was buried in powder, but we left feeling grateful for the experience. There was so much peace and silence as we looked over the lake; so much wonder and amazement as we walked through the deep snow. We felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and that can be a rare feeling at a National Park.
Until we meet again, Crater Lake. Next stop, Oregon Coast!